Parker Avenue and Parker Lane residents, who live down the street from the new Madison Beach Hotel, say they are keeping an eye on developments at the hotel to make sure their neighborhood is not adversely affected by what they call "hotel creep."
By that, they hasten to add, they mean commercial creep, or the creep of commercial activities of the hotel over into their bustling and close-knit neighborhood, which during the summer is filled with kids playing lacrosse games that spill out onto the narrow streets, adults throwing impromptu parties and gatherings on their lawns and nearby beaches, and many who value a good night's sleep undisturbed by the sound of trucks unloading in the wee hours.
Ric Duques, who owns the Madison Beach Hotel, and his family are part of that neighborhood. He has been talking with neighbors before, during, and after the completion of the new hotel. For the most part, neighbors say they feel like Ric Duques is listening to them when they raise issues of concern, and that officials at town hall have been responsive. They also say that have noticed police are patrolling ever more frequently in the area now that the hotel is open. Still, some say they are becoming increasingly frustrated by problems presented by the opening of the new hotel.
Trying to address neighbors' concerns as they come up
Hotel officials say they are aware of the neighbors' concerns and are doing what they can to address them, as they come up.
Lou Carrier, president of Distinctive Hospitality Group, which is managing the hotel, said the concerns of the neighbors are the highest priority for the Duques family.
"It's probably the most substantial concern on our minds. They're neighbors and they have been for decades. In the spirit of being neighbors, when people have shared concerns with Ric and Dawn [Duques, the owners of the hotel], they have reacted. They take these concerns seriously."
Weary of the "push, push"
Some neighbors say they are becoming weary and wary of what they call the "push, push" of hotel activities over into the neighborhood, and the continual need for neighbors, and the town, to push back. Several said they still hope that the Duques family will do right by the neighborhood, because of the family's relationships with neighbors, and because Duques and his family own two residential homes there, along with two empty lots, in the neighborhood.
It is the ownership of those residential properties that have been the focus of some of the concern, along with issues like truck deliveries, hours of operation, and parking. Neighborhood residents, citing their close relationship with the Duques family, asked not to be quoted by name. These are people who used to be my neighbors, when I lived one street in back of Parker Avenue, many years ago. I spoke earlier this week with seven people who live on Parker Avenue or Parker Lane.
One concern of neighbors related to construction on an empty lot in between Parker Avenue and Parker Lane. The lot was purchased by the Duques family recently, along with the house at 11 Parker Lane, which is right next to the hotel, facing Long Island Sound. The Duques family recently started building a bocce court on the lot. Ric Duques told some neighbors about his plans and said he expected "a challenger team" from the neighborhood, neighbors said.
Some neighbors taken aback by the removal of trees that acted as a buffer
Free-form bocce, played without a formal court, is already a favorite among some in the neighborhood. It's not unusual during the summer to sometimes find bocce balls in bushes or bouncing off telephone poles along Parker Avenue.
But some neighbors were taken aback, and ultimately upset, by the removal of all of the trees on the Parker Lane lot, as part of the construction project. The trees had served as a sort of buffer between the residential area and the hotel on the other side of the lot. Some of those neighbors are now talking with the Duques family about the best way to restore that buffer by replanting. One neighbor visited town hall to ask whether the hotel--rather than just the Duques family--would be able to use a recreational area in a residential zone.
Madison Zoning Enforcement Officer John J. De Laura says he's on the case. He several weeks ago asked the hotel to stop using the other Duques-owned lot on Parker Avenue for temporary employee parking. When he saw construction on the empty lot next to the hotel this week, he asked that the construction be stopped immediately, he said.
Principal use must be established before ancillary use can be established
So the neighbors want to know, can a commercial enterprise like the hotel use residential property for entertaining, if Duques decides he wants to do that at some point?
That's the wrong question to ask at this time, DeLaura says.
Before anything is done on that empty lot, a principal use has to be established on the empty lot, he said. Right now, a principal use has not been established. "Without a principal use, there cannot be an ancillary use like parking or recreation," he said. He added that the location of the area under construction on the lot--right up against the property line adjacent to Church Street, which runs alongside Madison Beach Hotel--also might be a violation of setback requirements.
"They can plant a garden or trees, but that's about it"
"That lot basically has no principal use at this time," he said. "They can plant a garden or trees, but that's about it. We asked them to cease the construction activity and they have done that. They are working on a remedy and are talking with a land use attorney ... They understand what the problem is, and they don't want to be in violation ... They stopped immediately when told."
The ultimate use of that property may have to be determined by the Zoning Board of Appeals, DeLaura said, depending on what the Duques family wants to do with it.
"It'll all work itself out," he added. "There are a lot of rules. They can be difficult to understand." He said that he is keeping an eye on the area to make sure there are no violations. "That's what we've been asked to do and that's what we're doing."
Traffic Memorial Day weekend on Parker Avenue "abysmal"
Neighbors say they are grateful that town hall is keeping an eye on things, and that Madison police have stepped up patrols in the area. Still, they say, the opening of the new hotel has created issues.
Memorial Day weekend traffic on narrow Parker Avenue and Parker Lane was "abysmal," one neighbor said. "There was no sign telling people where to enter the hotel, and so they'd go past the hotel, drive down Parker and then drive to the end of the street, looking for a parking place. Then they'd drive around and look again."
Neighbors said they also saw valet park attendants, stationed in back of the hotel in a parking lot off of Parker Avenue, park some cars of hotel guests in the empty lot in front of 11 Parker Lane, the property just purchased by the Duques family. "The valet guys were parking in front of Ric's house," one neighbor said. The Duques family also owns the house at 15 Parker Lane, which has at times been used as administrative offices for the hotel.
Homemade sign directs traffic away from Parker Avenue
One neighbor put up a homemade sign identifying Parker Avenue as a "private road." Several neighbors said they'd like the town and hotel to add to the signage, and perhaps institute an enforceable consequence for hotel guests who park on Parker Avenue or Parker Lane.
"At some point, they should put up a sign saying people shouldn't just cruise on down here," one neighbor said.
That neighbor added that the increased police presence has been noted by neighbors and is appreciated. "The police are doing a nice job," the neighbor said. "They are down here much more often. They seem to be on high alert."
Not built for heavy traffic
One neighbor said his concern is that Parker Avenue is not built for heavy traffic. "We're not built for ten extra cars, let alone the 50 that came down one day on Memorial Day weekend."
One neighbor expressed concern Monday about the construction of the bocce court, prior to it being shut down by the town. "Can he allow anyone he wants to access that? We'll see how that works," the neighbor said.
"It won't take much change, before the entire tenor of the street is changed," a neighbor said.
Concern about truck deliveries expressed, addressed
There has been concern about truck deliveries. The hotel does not have a formal loading dock area, so trucks, including some tractor trailer trucks, have to idle in the street while making deliveries, a neighbor said. One neighbor described another neighbor, clad in his bathrobe, emerging from his house in the early morning hours, to chastise the driver of a particularly noisy truck.
One neighbor said he brought his concern directly to hotel officials and he said he thinks that the problem of trucks coming particularly early in the morning, and early in the morning on weekends, has been addressed. This neighbor added that he feels that the new hotel is a vast improvement over the old hotel.
"We're delighted with that," the neighbor said. He added that some residents have been in constant contact with John Mathers, the hotel manager, and that he has been responsive to the concerns of the neighbors.
"They miss the turn for the hotel and come down here"
"The truck deliveries are better than it was," he said. "Lighting has not been a problem. But people driving down the street remain a problem. They miss the turn for the hotel and come down here. When 65 people turn around ... it can get pretty dusty."
Even with all of the concerns about the hotel and the possibility of hotel creep, one neighbors said he was relieved when he heard the Duques family bought the house at 11 Parker Lane, and the lot. "We were scared to death some developer was going to buy it and put up a big building. We were very relieved when the Duques family bought the whole thing," the neighbor said.
"Boy is it quiet," that neighbor added, earlier this week. "Compared to last summer [when construction was underway], it is so quiet." He said he remembers times last summer, when construction was underway, when workers were cutting tiles at 2:30 a.m.
"It's always push, push, push ... "
This neighbor added that, while he had concerns, he felt they were being addressed. He said he did not understand some of the anger directed at the Duques family by some in town. "He's been very successful, and they haven't, so they hate him," he said.
Another neighbor said he thought the anger has been generated by the tendency of the hotel owners and operators to push the limits, and sometimes push past the limits, of what is allowed.
"It's always push, push, push and then someone has to push back," he said.
Parker Avenue residents have been through a lot
Another neighbor added that residents of Parker Avenue and Parker Lane have already had a lot to deal with, in that repairs relating to significant damage in homes on the street from Tropical Storm Irene last year are only now being finished.
"There was a lot of damage," she said. "It was terrible. The water come right up the street." Still, the work is getting done, she added. "Oh well, you know, this too shall pass," she said. "It'll all get done."
Several neighbors said being close to a busy hotel was nothing new for them. "We bought this house knowing there was a hotel there, and knowing that they would be rebuilding," one neighbor said. "We spoke in favor of it. On the positive side, we like to walk down the street to get a drink." Another neighbor said she enjoyed watching the weddings. "I like seeing all the weddings," she said. "Some are better than others."
"Four weddings a weekend is a lot"
Still, the sheer volume of weddings has some neighbors wondering about how business has changed at the hotel. The old hotel had one space suitable for weddings, in addition to the outdoor area.
The new hotel has four slots a weekend for weddings, two for Saturday and two for Sunday, neighbors have been told. With a total occupancy approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals of more than 300 guests, that can make for a lot of traffic.
"Four weddings a weekend is a lot," one neighbor said. "This is becoming a wedding factory. The old hotel was not like that."
Neighbors say they will continue to identify concerns as they come up
Neighbors say they will continue to talk with town officials, and representatives of the hotel, to make sure that issues are addressed as needed. At least one neighbor has a copy of the Zoning Board of Appeals approval of the variance that allowed for hotel construction. He says he will keep it at the ready and make sure that the conditions specified in the decision are adhered to by talking with the Duques family and the town, if necessary.
Carrier says the Duques family is ready to listen and address any concerns as needed.
"The neighborhood probably ranks at the top of the list of concerns," Carrier said. "None of it matters if their friends and neighbors are unhappy. That's a fact. It's all about that. There is a willingness and a desire to do the right thing here."